08-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 30°N 118°E.
Sun 7 Aug 2005 (Day 10, cont'd), 12:20 p.m. - We get a bus south from Hongcun Township back to Yi County's capital.
1:10 p.m. - Although we arranged for a late, 3 p.m. check-out, when we get back to the hotel the staff are quite agitated, and keep telephoning our room, rudely admonishing us to check out as soon as possible. The only explanation for this seems to be that they have made up the room in our absence, and now don't want us to muck it up again. We deliberately take our time before checking out.
1:25 p.m. - When we get to the bus station, a short walk from the hotel, we find that the only opportunity for transport going in our desired direction is a bus west to Qimen, capital of neighbouring Qimen County, which is not a great distance away. However, we are assured that in Qimen we will be able to transfer to a bus going NW to Shitai. So off we go.
2:30 p.m. - We arrive in Qimen, and take a three-wheeler to the long-distance bus station. Unfortunately, contrary to what we were told, there are no more connecting buses this afternoon, so we check into the nice Guniujiang Hotel next door to the station.
Like Yi County, Qimen is a relatively small place for a county capital, but much cleaner and more inviting. And it's not a tourist rip-off place either. In fact, it's not a bad place at all to be marooned due to evaporating transport options.
We walk around town, engaging in a little shopping: a pair of running shoes for Ah Feng, in anticipation of tomorrow's challenging confluence attempt, and some handy little plastic-covered notebooks perfect for recording thoughts such as these. We then visit an Internet bar, have a hotpot dinner, and get our hair washed at an upmarket hairdressing establishment called Xiao Xiang Gang (Little Hong Kong).
I've been running a fever all day, but the cold medicine that Ah Feng bought me this morning is now starting to take effect, and I begin to feel much better.
Mon 8 Aug 2005 (Day 11), 5:30 a.m. - Finally, at long last, it dawns a sunny day.
6:30 a.m. - We get a bus NW to Shitai. It follows a winding, bumpy road through the mountains.
9:10 a.m. - When we finally arrive in Shitai, the ticket seller on the bus convinces us to stay on board all the way NW to the outskirts of Anqing, from where he assures us we will get a much quicker connection to our next destination, Dongzhi, currently to our west. The road after Shitai is in much better condition, and we make swift progress.
10:40 a.m. - We disembark at the entrance to the huge bridge that crosses the Yangtze River to Anqing. Dongzhi is due south from here. Almost immediately a Dongzhi bus comes along, but we let it go by because it's already packed to the gunnels. This is a bit of a mistake, because we now have to wait 40 minutes in the hot sun before the next Dongzhi bus comes along. At least we get seats on this one.
12:10 p.m. - We arrive in Dongzhi. The confluence is 11 kilometres further south. After fruitlessly enquiring at the bus station about buses heading south, we try to hire a taxi instead, but the taxi drivers are all a mob of shysters in league with one another, intent only on ripping us off. So in the end we settle for a very slow-moving but reasonably priced three-wheeler. This, unfortunately, suffers a flat tyre with the confluence still 4.6 kilometres south, and we are left with no option but to continue on foot.
1:30 p.m. - We arrive at the village of Liangtian, with the confluence now exactly three kilometres south. There is a road heading off to the left that we believe must be the road to Naitan Village.
At this point, I want to say that we are deeply indebted to Ray for providing absolutely crucial information in his previous visit report: specifically, that this confluence is unreachable from the main road, and must be tackled from behind the mountain.
Our luck now starts to turn for the better. As we are wondering if this really is the right road or not, a truck turns off the highway and into the road. I ask the driver if this is the road to Naitan, and he says yes. I then ask if we may ride in the back of his truck, and he again says yes. As we walk around to the back of the truck, we discover it is already full of people, so I surmise that this must be one of those "passenger trucks".
But not far down the road, just before the road turns south and goes over a bridge, the truck stops and everyone gets out. No money is asked for, so it is indeed just a friendly gesture--in pleasant contrast to what we've just experienced in Dongzhi with the taxi cartel.
As we're disembarking, a man brandishing a menacingly long rifle suddenly appears, and demands to know where we're going. I tell him Naitan, whereupon he departs the scene, much to our relief.
Before we continue our journey on foot, we take the opportunity to visit the toilet, stock up on bottled water, put on our sun-hats, etc. Then, just as we're all set to go, the gunman reappears--this time minus the rifle--and announces that he's organised transport to Naitan for us, and what's more, it's free!
This is a rather unbelievable turn of events. But sure enough, a few minutes later, a minivan arrives from the direction of Naitan, stops, turns around, and the driver beckons for us to get in. His accent is a bit hard to grasp, but he seems to confirm that this is a free service, if that's the way we want it.
By the time we arrive in Naitan, we've already explained to him what we're planning to do, and he is very excited to go with us. He has of course already heard of Ray & co.'s visit a couple of months before, and is determined not to miss out on the fun this time around.
He parks in front of his house in Naitan, from where the confluence is 1.2 kilometres SW. While we're putting our bags inside for safekeeping, he disappears into an inner room, and emerges shortly thereafter armed with a machete, raring to go. We cross the wooden bridge to the small village of Yanwogu on the opposite side of the river, and from there begin our walk along the stream towards the confluence.
Our benefactor's name is Hu Liqin, and having him along turns out to be a godsend. Along the way, he expounds much local wisdom concerning the forest. Unfortunately I can't catch a lot of it due to his thick accent, but Ah Feng understands more. He stops several times to point out wild boar tracks (apparently what the gunman's long rifle is used for), and at one point states confidently that the wild boar that left this particular print must weigh about 100 kilograms.
2:40 p.m. - We stop for a rest with the confluence 135 metres SE. We leave the stream at this point and start climbing towards the summit along a somewhat disused path. Mr Hu's machete comes in handy, and he revels in hacking away at anything and everything in the way. Only later will we discover that our clothes have become permanently stained from the sap of the branches that he's chopping.
3:20 p.m. - We have reached the summit, with the confluence now 140 metres north. We follow a path along the ridge until the confluence is 50 metres off to our left, i.e. NW, then forge our way down to the spot. The GPS is giving only 13-metre accuracy, making pinning down the zeroes less than straightforward. Mr Hu relaxes with a cigarette while we busy ourselves photographing the GPS and the views to the north, south, east and west.
We climb back up to the ridge the same way we came, but then continue to follow the ridge northwards until we come to what begins as a gently sloping path back down to the creek, but which eventually ends up being pretty steep indeed.
5:55 p.m. - After a light vegetarian dinner compliments of Mr Hu, we leave Naitan in his minivan. He drives us back to Dongzhi. Along the way we stop to examine, at close range, a farm growing mu'er (literally "wood ears", an edible fungus: Auricularia auricula-judae), one of the specialties of the region.
Continuing on to Dongzhi, I have time to reflect on the fact that, in the space of just 10 short days, all of Anhui Province's 13 confluence points have been successfully visited. Next in our sights is Hubei Province...
Story continues at 31°N 116°E.
Note to future visitors: You would be well served to contact Mr Hu Liqin on +86 566 845 1429 or +86 131 5661 9755 (mobile). He can arrange to pick you up from the county capital Dongzhi if you wish, and will be more than happy to accompany you through the mountains to the confluence point.